The Femicide Census is the result of decades of women’s work to counter men’s violence. Photo: Getty
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Why we need a Femicide Census

Finally, data from dozens of sources about the killings of women by men can be brought together so we can see how grave the problem really is.

The launch of the Femicide Census is the culmination of the work of one individual: Karen Ingala Smith, self-described “random woman in a back bedroom in Walthamstow”. At the beginning of 2012, she realised that the news was telling her the same story over and over, although the names and details changed. There was Kirsty Treloar, killed by her boyfriend Myles Williams; Susan McGoldrick, Alison Turnbull and Tanya Turnbull, killed by Susan’s partner Michael Atherton; Claire O’Connor, killed by her boyfriend Aaron Mann; Betty Yates, killed by drifter Stephen Farrow. Again and again and again and again, women were being killed by men.

Ingala Smith understands something about the patterns of male violence – in her day job, she’s CEO of domestic and sexual violence charity nia – and she started taking note. This was the beginning of Counting Dead Women, the most comprehensive resource on women killed by men in the UK. “Once I’d started, how could I stop?” she asks the audience at Northcliffe House, who have come to mark the development of her project into the Femicide Census, in collaboration with Women’s Aid, legal firm Freshfields, Bruckhaus and Deringer LLP, and Deloitte LLP, which has provided the analytic muscle of the Census. “How could I say the next didn’t matter?”

But the Femicide Census is also the culmination of decades of women’s work to counter men’s violence. (At this event, there are no tactful efforts to portray violence as an equal opportunities crime: when women are killed, it’s usually by men, and no one on the panels or in the audience has any qualms about saying so. “We won’t get anywhere being gender-neutral,” says Polly Neate of Women’s Aid, briskly.) Speakers include feminist campaigner and academic Jill Radford, who (with Diana E H Russell) co-edited the book Femicide: The Politics of Women Killing, published in 1992. Then, it introduced the word “femicide” to describe the phenomenon Radford defines as “the killing of women because they’re women”, and it was definitive in scope, taking in the intersections with racism, honour cultures and white western cultural misogyny.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, Femicide sets the bar for the study of male violence against women, and stands as a still-pertinent foundation for the work yet to be done. I ask Radford whether she thinks the Census represents a high point for women’s resistance to male violence. Now retired, she puts today’s launch into the context of her years of activism, and sees what still needs doing. “There’s this dream that the government will swoop in,” she says. “Even back then [in the Seventies and Eighties] we thought we’d just be running the refuges for now.” But any piece of legislation is only a stage in the campaign, and can never make women’s organisations redundant. “Don’t just demand that the government does things,” Radford tells me. “Demand that it does them right. These things have to be woman-centred.”

Criticism of the current government is one of the unifying themes of the day. Many frontline service providers are in the room, and the cuts have been keenly felt. Karen Bradley MP, the minister for modern slavery and organised crime, makes many of the right noises in her keynote speech, but is notably light on financial commitments. In the question-and-answer section afterwards, criminologist Dr Aisha K Gill pointedly raises the decimation of specialist refuge services, particularly those that work with black and minority ethnicity women (Latin American Women’s Aid is right now campaigning to retain its funding). Bradley’s vague response offers little comfort, and nor does she suggest that any government resources will be available to maintain and expand the Femicide Census.

This seems like appalling short-sightedness on the part of the government. The Femicide Census means that data from dozens of sources about the killings of women by men can finally be brought together. A demonstration shows just how powerful a tool this can be: cases can be analysed by relationship between the woman and her killer (the Census captures all acts of femicide, including stranger attacks and familial abuse, not just fatal intimate partner violence), recorded motive, age of victim and perpetrator, whether the woman had children or not – almost any metric you can think of is available to interrogation, although there are many gaps in the data still to be filled (in particular, details on ethnicity are hard to come by).

The more you know, the more you can achieve. The Femicide Census opens up huge new possibilities for evidence-based policy, as Dr Marceline Naudi says in her opening remarks: “We want our counting to count.” In fact, by the end of the day, it’s obvious that this is more than a “want” – tackling fatal male violence against women is an absolute necessity. We hear personal tributes to the aunts, daughters and sisters cruelly pinched out of existence. Most wrenching of all is the constant refrain of missed opportunities. For example, Julie Warren-Sykes speaks eloquently of her daughter Samantha, murdered by the abusive boyfriend of a friend, despite chance after chance for separate agencies to put the pieces together and intervene. With the help of the Census, the patterns of men killing women can be made visible – and undeniable, even to the most placidly incurious of public services.

Already, Ingala Smith’s tireless recording seems to have brought about a change in the way violence is discussed. A year ago, it felt controversial to question the pat police phrase “isolated incident”, trotted out to reassure us that individual men had satiated their violence on individual women and been contained. Thanks to the Census, we can see the connections. We know that male violence is never isolated – it is systemic in a hierarchical society where men stand above and women below. We know that violence against women follows distinct trends: for example, while violent crime is declining overall, intimate partner violence (a form of violence committed predominantly against women) has remained stable since 2008-9. And in this context, we talk about femicide, so we can see precisely the lines of power and control that work their damage on women. “Our lives are worthy and our voices should be heard,” says domestic violence survivor Mandy Wood in her talk. The Femicide Census is the voice of a crisis. It is time to listen. It is time to act.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

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Is Google Maps discriminating against people with disabilities?

Its walking routes are not access-friendly.

“I ended up having to be pushed through a main road in London, which was really scary.” Three weeks ago, Mary Bradley went to London to visit her daughter Belinda, who is just finishing her first year at university there. Her other daughter joined them on the trip.

But what was supposed to be an enjoyable weekend with her two children turned into a frustrating ordeal. The apps they were using to find their way around kept sending them on routes that are not wheelchair-friendly, leading to time-consuming and sometimes frightening consequences.

Bradley has been using a wheelchair – when having to go longer distances without a vehicle – for over a year, due to a 45-degree curve in her spine, severe joint facet deterioration in her back, and other conditions.

She lives in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, and has made the trip up to London to visit her daughter a handful of times. Each visit, they use Google Maps and the transport app Citymapper to find their way around, as neither of them know London particularly well.

Belinda and Mary Bradley. Photo: Belinda Bradley

“It was just horrible,” says Bradley of her most recent trip to the capital. “We’re following the maps, and we go along, then find we are faced with a footbridge, and realise there was no way I was going to get over it, so we had to go back the way we’d come. At one point, we were faced with a strip of narrow pavement the wheelchair couldn’t go down. That was something we found all weekend.”

While Google Maps did highlight accessible Tube stations, they found that once they had alighted to do the rest of the journey to their destination on foot, “it took us three times as long, because the route that it takes us just wasn’t passable”.

They ended up having to try different routes “having no real idea of where were going”.

“It meant that it took so much longer, the girls ended up having to push me for longer, I got more and more embarrassed and frustrated and upset about the whole thing,” Bradley tells me.

At one point, her daughters had to take her down a main road. “Being pushed on a road, especially in London, is scary,” she says. “It was scary for me, it was scary for the girls.”

When they returned home, Belinda, who is a 19-year-old Writing and Theatre student at the University of Roehampton, was so furious at the situation that she started a petition for Google Maps to include wheelchair-friendly routes. It hit over 100,000 signatures in a fortnight. At the time of writing, it has 110,601 petitioners.

Belinda's petition.

Belinda was surprised that Google Maps didn’t have accessible routes. “I know Google Maps so well, [Google]’s such a big company, it has the satellite pictures and everything,” she says. “So I was really surprised because there’s loads of disabled people who must have such an issue.”

The aim of her petition is for Google Maps to generate routes that people using wheelchairs, crutches, walking sticks, or pushing prams will be able to use. “It just says that they’re a little bit ignorant,” is Belinda’s view of the service’s omission. “To me, just to ignore any issues that big needs to be solved; it needs to be addressed almost immediately.”

But she also wants to raise awareness to “make life better in general” for people with disabilities using navigation apps.

Belinda has not received a response from Google or Citymapper, but I understand that Google is aware of the petition and the issue it raises. Google declined to comment and I have contacted Citymapper but have not received a response.

Google Maps does provide information about how accessible its locations are, and also allows users to fill in accessibility features themselves via an amenities checklist for places that are missing that information. But it doesn’t provide accessible walking routes.

“There’s no reason that they couldn’t take it that bit further and include wheelchair accessible routes,” says Matt McCann, the founder of Access Earth, an online service and app that aims to be the Google Maps for people with disabilities. “When I first started Access Earth, I always thought this is something Google should be doing, and I was always surprised they haven’t done it. And that’s the next logical step.”

McCann began crowdsourcing information for Access Earth in 2013, when he booked a hotel in London that was supposed to be wheelchair-friendly – but turned out not to be accessible for his rollator, which he uses due to having cerebral palsy.

Based in Dublin, McCann says Google Maps has often sent him on pedestrian routes down cobbled streets, which are unsuitable for his rollator. “That’s another level of detail; to know whether the footpaths are pedestrian-friendly, but also if they’re wheelchair-friendly as well in terms of the surface,” he notes. “And that was the main problem that I had in my experience [of using walking routes].”

Access Earth, which includes bespoke accessibility information for locations around the world, aims to introduce accessible routes once the project has received enough funding. “The goal is to encompass all aspects of a route and trip,” he says. Other services such as Wheelmap and Euan's Guide also crowdsource information to provide access-friendly maps.

So how long will it take for more established tech companies like Google to clear the obstacles stopping Mary Bradley and millions like her using everyday services to get around?

“You can use them for public transport, to drive, you can use them if you’re an able-bodied person on foot,” she says. “But there are loads of us who are completely excluded now.”

Sign Belinda Bradley’s “Create Wheelchair Friendly Routes on Google Maps" here.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.